How to buy and sell at auctions

Most auction houses are in large cities, but their services are available to everyone. Buyers can bid by phoning or writing or by hiring an agent for a modest fee.

Auction houses regularly publish catalogs of upcoming sales, and you can subscribe to those of particular interest, such as antiques, stamps, and art. The descriptions in these catalogs, however, are sometimes suspect as to condition of the items and other vital factors. So are the “expected prices” the items may fetch.

It is best to inspect the items before a sale. Unless you know the market, engage an agent. He’ll probably charge between 5 and 10 percent of the price paid for an item. Auction houses can usually recommend an agent in almost any area of expertise.

Before taking your possessions to an auction house to sell, have them appraised by a qualified appraiser. (The Appraisers Association of America, headquartered in New York, qualifies appraisers in various fields.) The appraiser will advise what reserve price to place on an item. This is the minimum price you are willing to accept. The auction house takes a percentage of the final sale price as its fee, usually between 10 and 20 percent. Buying at a country auction Here you are usually on your own as to quality, price, and bidding. Some times bidding is by hand signal, or you may be given a numbered card to raise. Often you have to pay by certified check or make a deposit at the beginning if you plan to bid. Find out and go prepared.

Arrive early and inspect all items of interest before the auction begins. Set a limit on what you are willing to pay for an item-and stick to it. The bidding itself is like a poker game. Sit near a side aisle and watch other bidders’ faces as a clue to how eager they are to buy. If there are several bidders for an item you want, try appearing disinterested and enter your bid only when it looks as though another bidder has nearly won out.